US energy shares saw a slight lift after BHP Billiton was said to be considering a $90-a-share bid for Anadarko Petroleum, the US-based oil-and-gas explorer.
Anadarko shares closed 6.9 per cent higher at $75.59, their highest level since June 2008.
Gas trapped in shale rock in the US has been a sought-after asset this year. As a sector, oil and gas saw the most $1bn or larger deals in 2010, with 65 deals for $220bn globally, according to Dealogic.
The market is expected to continue to expand, with some $90bn of oil and gas assets said to be for sale in 2011. Reliance Industries, the Indian energy conglomerate, said it is still seeking expansion in the US.
Other independent US shale exploration groups were mixed. Cabot Oil & Gas was up 0.9 per cent, to $37.69, but Denbury Resources was down 1.4 per cent to $19.
Energy shares overall were up fractionally at the end of the session, as US indices slipped back from their highest levels since September 2008 in extremely light end-of-year trading volumes.
The S&P 500 index was down 0.2 per cent at 1,257.88. The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average also fell 0.1 to 11,569.71, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index was down 0.2 per cent to 2,662.98.
Sentiment was softer in spite of a sharp decrease in weekly US jobless claims. Claims fell by 8 per cent, with 388,000 unemployment insurance claims filed for the week ending December 25. The figures were adjusted for the typical jump in holiday hiring.
“We would advise taking the result reported today with a very large grain of salt. The holiday season normally creates volatility in these figures that doesn’t shake out until late January,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief US economist at MFR.
Monster Worldwide, the jobs listings service provider, saw shares rise 2.1 per cent to $24.12, at one point seeing their highest since June 2008.
The Chicago region purchasing managers’ index also improved, rising from 62.5 in November to 68.6 for this month. A reading over 60 indicates expansion.
Materials groups, closely tied to economic growth, were down only slightly. Alcoa led the Dow, rising 0.5 per cent to $15.21, though AK Steel fell 1 per cent to $16.11. CF Industries, which produces fertiliser, was up 1.4 per cent to $136.67.
The financial sector lagged, falling 0.3 per cent. Asset managers were lower on weaker fund sales. Janus Capital Group was down 1.2 per cent to $12.91, and Legg Mason fell 1.7 per cent to $36.17.
US investors pulled almost $8bn from municipal bond funds in November, the Investment Company Institute said on Thursday.
Consumer credit groups were lower after US mortgage foreclosures were revealed to have risen sharply in the third quarter, up 31 per cent, according to US regulators. That hurts consumers’ willingness to take on debt. American Express was down 0.8 per cent to $42.51, and Discover Financial fell 2.2 per cent to $18.17.
Expedia, the travel website, dropped 1.2 per cent to $25.28. The group has been locked in a dispute with American Airlines over whether the carrier will continue to advertise its flights on the site.
Sears Holdings was down 0.5 per cent to $74.15 a day, Its shares rose more than 6 per cent on Wednesday after it said it would launch an online film service. Shares in Netflix, the market leader, were down 0.3 per cent to $179.80.
Cephalon, the drugmaker, continued to fall after news that it would not seek approval for its jet lag remedy. Its shares fell 0.8 per cent to $62.16.
Retailers were mixed as traders judged the post-Christmas holiday season.
Gap, the clothing retailer, rose 2.4 per cent to $22.46. Apparel group Limited Brands also added 1.6 per cent, to $31.19.
Tiffany & Co, the jeweller, dropped 1.4 per cent to $63.11. GameStop, the video game retailer, and RadioShack both added 2 per cent to $22.95 and $18.82, respectively.